Science and beer have always paired well together in my mind. I always hope that there is a link beyond the pure beer science. Louis Pasteur demonstrated that the fermentation process is a function of living yeast cells rather than a spontaneous occurrence. This was the dawn of modern microbiology and pretty important for our beer and understanding of yeast, but maybe beer has played an even larger role in science. I find myself thinking of other scientists, and if beer played an equal importance in their work. Perhaps as Einstein postulated his Theory of General Relativity he had been enjoying a few of his favourite beers. Would he want a lager or did he enjoy something more complex and robust? As physicists smash protons together at the Large Hadron Collider searching for the elusive Higgs Boson particle, do they complete the night with a round of beer tastings from the local breweries? Maybe this is not important. But in my mind, beer and science are equal parts awesome; because if you find yourself scratching your head trying to understand Superstring theory and an 11 dimensional Universe, nothing will cure that headache faster than a good beer.
Today, we pair beer and the upcoming Venus Solar Transit. No, that is not an environmentally friendly rapid transit system for the Roman Goddess of Love and Beauty; but rather the rare event in our lifetime in which the planet Venus passes directly between our view here on Earth, and the Sun. This event is rare because we will not be alive to see it happen again. Without getting into complicated orbital mechanics, the transit happens in pair: The first of this set was June 8th, 2004. The second transit will be visible at sunset, June 5th, 2012 The next transit will be in the year 2117.
Why is this important? As many things are in the universe, it is a matter of relativity. It will not affect your life in any physical or material way; but it does offer a glimpse of something we miss often in our world: humility. For a few hours, the planet will present to us a true and meaningful understanding of the scale of our solar system. We have grown up looking at diagrams, pictures, orbits…but these are distances we cannot comprehend. For a moment we realize that the universe has it’s own agenda, and our little planet is part of something much greater and complex than we can imagine. Deep thoughts only work with good beer.
So after some reading I had decided that if one were to partake in observing the Venus Solar Transit a few important things had to be worked out.
Firstly, you cannot just throw on your Oakley’s and watch it, you will just go blind. NASA suggests for the amature solar gazer use a piece #14 welding glass. But if you don’t know any welders, maybe you know someone with a solar telescope. But again, unlikely. NASA has a link to a live broadcast of the transit (I’ve embedded the stream below), so you may watch from the comfort of your home without the blindness, telescopes, or pants.
Second, we cannot observe this solar-system-sized event without a beer. What beers pair well with the planet Venus? Venus is only slightly smaller than earth, covered by a thick layer of sulphuric acid clouds and surface temperatures exceeding 460 °C. I immediately thought of a big bowl of curried lamb (I think it was the sulphuric acid clouds). As many of us know a good curry dish goes very well with an IPA. So grab a few bottles, relax, and contemplate the vastness of our universe…or maybe just drink beer and contemplate which beer you want next. It’s up to you, but if you are interested I have embedded a stream of the transit from the NASA EDGE in Mauna Kea, Hawaii below. The stream begins at 5:45pm EST.